Budget Cuts Take Bigger Slice Out of School Supplies

Education budget cuts take a big toll in the classroom – not only are there more students cramming into already crowded classes, there are fewer supplies to go around. Cuts have been so severe that many educators, who have long dipped into their own pocketbooks for classroom and student supplies, can no longer afford to buy materials.

“I usually buy a lot, but will not be doing so this year,” says Molly Gustafson, an educator from Georgia. “I will be prepared to stock four or five kids, but nowhere near to the extent as in the past.”

Some districts are asking parents to make up the difference, sending home long lists of supplies their children will need for school. In fact, many families can expect to spend up to 25 percent more this year to fill up their kids’ backpacks with supplies. That’s according to the “2011 Backpack Index” released each year by Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bank.

Each year Huntington gets classroom-supply lists from a cross-section of schools throughout the six states it serves (Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky). It compiles a list of required supplies and determines costs by finding average prices for items at online retailers like Staples and OfficeMax.

Huntington’s annual survey found that between summer 2010 and summer 2011, elementary school costs shot up from $474 to $530 (12 percent); middle school costs ballooned from $545 to $681 (25 percent); and high school costs increased from $1,000 to $1,091 (9 percent).

“Families are facing a double whammy of rising prices for basic household goods along with new expenses that used to be covered by the public sector,” said George Mokrzan, Huntington Bank’s director of economics.

But in many low-income communities, expecting parents to pay for school supplies on top of their basic household expenses is simply unrealistic. To make sure the students in these communities have the materials they need, educators are finding creative ways to procure supplies.

Some hit the sales on “Teacher Appreciation Day” at retailers like Staples and Office Max, while others find supplies at the dollar store or local thrift stores, which often give discounts to teachers year-round.

Keith Pickering-Walters, a high school visual arts teacher from California, says he watches the Craigslist free section “with a passion.”

“I got 27 new rolling office chairs in really nice condition for my video productions lab for free from a design firm, and three studio lights, a 10-foot screen, and an older studio camera from another company,” he says.

Other teachers provide supplies for the entire year by conserving what they already have.

Tori Mazur, an educator from North Carolina says she was inspired by a placard in a hotel that asked guests to reuse bath towels during their stay to conserve resources.

“It made me think about asking my students to come up with a list of classroom resources that we should use sparingly, or take better care of,” she says. “Engaging them in the conversation and brainstorming about supply use might be a way to raise awareness of taking care of the materials we have so we can stretch our dollars together.”

For more ideas on finding free things for your classroom, check out these resources: